Happy Employees Make Productive Employees

Employees who like where they work will help the company make more money. Sears conducted an 800-store survey that showed the impact of employee attitudes on the bottom line. When employee attitudes improved by 5%, customer satisfaction jumped 1.3%, consequently increasing revenue by one-half a percentage point. Seeking ways to motivate and build worker morale pays dividends to any business or organization. The motivated worker is more committed to the job and to the customer.

In order to attract and keep good workers, many businesses are providing more family-friendly benefits. The Families and Work Institute released the “Business Work Life” study. (http://www.familiesandwork.org) It provides a benchmark to corporate work life policies and practice. The study focused on companies that employee 100 or more workers.

Ninety percent of the 1,000 companies surveyed allow workers to take time off to attend school events. Half-let workers stay home with mildly ill children without using vacation or sick days. Two thirds permit flex time defined as allowing employees to adjust work hours on a daily basis. Nine percent offer child care at or near the workplace. Thirty-three percent offer maternity leaves more than 13 weeks. Twenty-three percent offer elder care resources and referral services and half provide dependent care assistance plans. Forty-four percent hold supervisors accountable for sensitivity to their employees work/family needs.

The Los Angeles Department of Power and Water (LADPW) offers its 11,000 employees such benefits as a free seven-week lunch time series on nutrition, prenatal care, use of health benefits; an ob-gyn/pediatric nurse comes two days a week to answer medical questions; electric nursing pumps for mothers to provide milk to babies at child care (and dads can take the devices home to their partners); certified social workers to help employees use programs and resources; parenting classes at lunch time; support groups for parents. It also offers four-month maternity and paternity leaves, a resource center for parents, and a beeper that lets expectant fathers know when their wives go into labor.

After the agency discovered that the cost of employee absence due to caring for children ran around one million dollars a year, it subsidized a child care center for employees. The center generates its own revenues.

Studies show that having workers involved at all levels has a major impact on improving profit and productivity. A good example is Guardian Industries, an 800-person glass plant in Indiana. They decided to start listening to their employees to find out their opinion on how to staff the plant’s 24-hr work shifts. The employees decided instead of working rotating day and evening shifts, they would rather work permanent 12 hour shifts. The result–turnover fell by 50%.

Wainwright Industries, located in St. Peters, Missouri created a total employee involvement program which increased trust, equality and ownership.

In the 70s and 80s, Wainwright faced a severe recession. Sales dropped and operations slowed to three days a week. The workers were frustrated and a riff was growing between the workers and management. So they started changing.

The first step was to start calling the workers, “associates.” This one small change lead to even greater changes. They eliminated time clocks and everyone was put on a salary. Today, associates are paid even if they miss work and paid time-and-a-half for overtime. A team of associates developed a profit sharing program that covers everyone at Wainwright. The team consisted of one manager and seven non-management associates. Ownership developed propelling them down the track at a faster pace.

What impresses me most is Wainwright’s Continuous Improvement Process. (CIP) In 1994 associates implemented over 8,400 improvement ideas from their workforce. They presently average 300 ideas a week from 146 associates. The associates – not management – totally run this powerful process. This works because associates at Wainwright have authority to make any improvements, without permission up to $1000 in cost. If their idea or change exceeds this amount, they fill out a form to for approval.

Each week the names of those submitting ideas are eligible for cash awards. Four names are randomly drawn. Two people win $50 each for safety CIPs (Continuous Improvement Process) and two people win $50 each for regular CIPs. The previous week’s winner makes the drawings. The company also has quarterly drawings for a $300 gift certificate, and it comes with a catered luncheon for everyone who submitted a CIP during that quarter. The final results–profits grew from $5 million to $30 million.

Despite these success stories, most businesses do a terrible job listening to and involving their employees. A Towers Perrin survey of 3300 employees show an increase from 25% to 30% last year who say supervisors have ignored their interests when making decisions that affect them.